China hosts visit by Kim Jong Un amid US tensions

Posted at 8:54 PM, Jan 07, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-07 20:54:49-05

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made his fourth visit to China this week, arriving in the country for a three-day visit at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping, according to state media.

“Supreme Leader of the Party, state and army Kim Jong Un left Pyongyang with his wife Ri Sol Ju on Monday afternoon to visit (China),” the state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported.

Kim was accompanied by key diplomats, KCNA added, including Kim Yong Chol, who has overseen negotiations with the US and other foreign countries.

“He was warmly seen off by leading officials of the Party, government and armed forces organs at the railway station,” the news agency said.

The North Korean leader’s heavily-armored train crossed the border between North Korea and China late on Monday night local time, South Korean media reported.

The trip is Kim’s fourth trip to China. The first, in March 2018, kicked off a flurry of international diplomacy by the young North Korean leader last year which culminated in twin summits with South Korea and the US.

China remains North Korea’s closest ally, and most important trading partner. Kim’s last visit to the country came days after he met US President Donald Trump in Singapore in June.

Talks are currently under way for a second summit between Kim and Trump, something which may be a key item of discussion between the North Korean and Chinese leaders in Beijing this week.

Relations between China and the US have worsened considerably since the Singapore summit, amid a deepening — though temporarily paused — trade war.

Harry J. Kazianis, an analyst with the Washington-based Center for the National Interest, said observers “should not be surprised Kim Jong Un has traveled to China to for a summit with Xi Jinping.”

“Kim is eager to remind the Trump Administration that he does have diplomatic and economic options besides what Washington and Seoul can offer,” Kazianis said. “China could easily turn Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ strategy into nothing more than a memory as almost all North Korea’s external trade flows through China in some capacity.”

He added that the timing from China’s perspective “could not be any better,” as it comes amid trade talks with the US and “shows Beijing clearly has a North Korea card to play if it sees fit.”